During an emergency meeting at the statehouse, members of the Administrative Rules Committee met to discuss changing parts of the Iowa code that discuss workplace harassment, specifically sexual harassment.
The change in policy comes on the heels of a report from an outside law firm about sexual harassment reports against then-Iowa Finance Authority Director David Jamison. The report found that employees were repeatedly harassed by Jamison while he was at work and while at work conferences away from the office. The report also noted that a handful of state employees at IFA knew about the harassment but failed to report it.
During the Thursday morning meeting, Department of Administrative Services Director Janet Phipps outlined changes to the sexual harassment policy that all employees must follow, including members of the Executive branch and statehouse workers.
The changes include: changing the definition of sexual harassment, placing authority to investigate claims into the hands of DAS or an outside agency if directed by the governor, stating that complaints and any records of complaints will be confidential, stating the chain of reporting by a state employee, and outlining the investigation process.
“We want to be more inclusive of those who have been subjected to sexual harassment but also those who may have witnessed sexual harassment,” said Phipps. “Retaliation is prohibited by law and identifies penalties for those who may retaliate.”
Several committee members, who were in the meeting via telephone, voiced concerns about the “emergency” flagging of the meeting. Phipps said she felt it was urgent to change the policy after the legal report came out about Jamison.
“We saw the issues that were raised in that report. I have to tell you, the day I read the report, I put together a plan to say that we need to take those recommendations seriously,” said Phipps. “We needed to do that to make sure that anyone who is subjected to this has a safe and confidential a multi-faceted vehicle to bring forward their complaint. this is an important issue. so that’s why….we felt that it needed to be immediate to clarify where there would be a conflict with reporting and who would investigate.”
Rep. Amy Nielsen, a Democrat from North Liberty, is on the committee. She asked Phipps if there was a record of all the state employees who are currently on administrative leave due to harassment claims. Phipps said that DAS does not track that, nor does the agency track the number of complaints.
“I’m gonna strongly suggest that you keep track of the kind of complaint,” said Nielsen. “I find that just unacceptable that we don’t know how many people are currently complaining about sexual harassment in the workplace.”
The policy changes were approved by the committee members.